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The Changing Standard of Accountability and the Positive Relationship between Human Rights Treaty Ratification and Compliance

  • Christopher J. Fariss

Researchers have puzzled over the finding that countries that ratify UN human rights treaties such as the Convention Against Torture are more likely to abuse human rights than non-ratifiers over time. This article presents evidence that the changing standard of accountability – the set of expectations that monitoring agencies use to hold states responsible for repressive actions – conceals real improvements to the level of respect for human rights in data derived from monitoring reports. Using a novel dataset that accounts for systematic changes to human rights reports, it is demonstrated that the ratification of human rights treaties is associated with higher levels of respect for human rights. This positive relationship is robust to a variety of measurement strategies and model specifications.

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Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early Career Professor in Political Science, and Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Pennsylvania State University (e-mails:; The author would like to thank Daniel Berliner, Chad Clay, Charles Crabtree, Geoff Dancy, Jesse Driscoll, James Fowler, Danny Hill, Miles Kahler, David Lake, Milli Lake, Yon Lupu, Jamie Mayerfeld, Will Moore, Amanda Murdie, Michael Nelson, Keith Schnakenberg, Brice Semmens, Kathryn Sikkink, Reed Wood, and Thorin Wright for many helpful comments and suggestions. The code and data files necessary to implement the models in JAGS and R are available in Harvard Dataverse at: doi:10.7910/DVN/TI77ZP and Online appendices are available at This research was supported in part by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy Innovation Grant, Pennsylvania State University.

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